Leadership

Goal Setting for Mid-Level Chief Officers

Outcome, Performance, and Process

Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? How will you get there?
(Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department photo)

By Gary L. Krichbaum

It’s a given that you have been asked the following during a promotional interview: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” This common interview question is really not designed to evaluate your fortune telling abilities but is an indirect approach for what the interviewers and department really want to know: Do you have goals, and do those goals support the department’s? Most departments are looking for leaders who are driven and motivated and who have a focus toward their future, which all aligns with the department’s direction, values, and desires. A leader who knows how to set and successfully reach goals is invaluable in creating high performing workforces and attaining organizational successes. But to achieve goals, we must first learn how to correctly establish the goals. This article can be your guide to setting personal goals that align with your department’s goals and further influence you to study more on the subject.

Why Is This So Important?

Goals create the energy in which all accomplishments, growth, and successes are realized. Success needs to have an identity so that we can recognize when we reach them. To put it simply, you have to know where you are going to know when you get there.  Norman Vincent Peale, author of the international bestseller book The Power of Positive Thinking, famously stated, “All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless they know where he/she wants to go and what he/she wants to be or do.” This is true in personal life and is especially relevant in the success of an organization. 

The chief officer (CO) needs to provide a focal point to channel personnel’s efforts and energy to generate maximum outcomes. This application should be inclusive of the person’s individual aims, what the position requires, and how both fit into the organization’s overarching goals.  People are more likely to be engaged when they experience accomplishments and can relate how their achievements contribute to larger department goals. Additionally, goal setting is particularly important as a mechanism for providing ongoing and year-end appraisals or feedback. By establishing and monitoring objectives, providing real-time feedback on performance, and assisting when needed, the success cycle can be a perpetual kinesis for the department. 

Types of Goals

Depending on which leadership class you’ve attended or the book that you’ve read, goal types can range anywhere from three to seven classifications. To keep things simple, the most relevant to our profession comes from categories developed by psychologists Edwin Locke and Gary Latham in the 1960s, which link goal setting to motivation. They concluded that goals can be divided into three categories: Outcome, Performance, and Process. These groupings are widely used in the sports psychology field and are most applicable to the team environment of firefighting. 

Outcomes goals are specific and detail the results you hope to achieve. Most of us do this at the beginning of a new year by declaring, “I will lose 20 pounds this year.” For the budding CO, it may be to promote to the next level (a common recommendation on many past performance appraisals/annual reviews). Although these goals are generalized, they should not be vague.  There should be no question as to what you want to achieve. The more specific you make the outcome goal, the more likely you are to succeed. But outcome goals only give you a target; they don’t tell you how to reach it or the action steps required to get you there.

Process goals are the actions or the strategies that will help increase the chances of achieving your desired outcome goals. It’s the liaison of the outcome goals and the details that creates the path to success. Continuing with our weight loss comparison, the process goal for losing weight may include reducing calories, exercising, and drinking more water. For the potential CO, we might set process goals such as study department materials, take relevant classes, and practice with command simulations. They are more detailed actions that allow us to divide the larger goals into smaller and attainable actions.

Performance goals set the standards and establish the benchmarks to measure the performance of our process goals. Primarily, they are focused on results and spell out exactly how we will behave to achieve our goals. For example, performance goals for losing weight based on the process goals above may be to only eat 2,000 calories per day, run one mile three times a week, and intake three liters of water per day. CO candidate performance goals would include studying standard operating procedures three nights a week for at least one hour, completing a Fire Officer III class by a particular date, and participating in command simulations with the assistant/deputy chief every shift. Not only are these the step-by-step directions to achieving your goals, but they allow you to measure your progress along the way. Remember that meeting performance goals of the process goals will achieve outcome goals.

Goal Characteristics

Now that we have a better idea of the types of goals we should establish, let’s delve deeper into what goals actually look like. Throughout our time as line officers, we often strive to be better at our craft, but few of us have ever been given specific directions to formally accomplish this. To gain a better understanding of the desirable characteristics of goals, we will note the two most popular goal setting models–SMART and OKRs.

Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson first developed the SMART goal system when branching the concept of goal theory beyond academia into the area of management and leadership (Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Zigarmi, 1985). SMART goal setting provides a framework, creates realistic aspirations, and provides the ability to track progress. SMART is an acronym that stands for the following:

Specific: Goals should be specified using precise terms, not vague ones; goals should be quantified as much as possible.

Measurable: Developing a method to measure progress is essential in goal achievements. This is where you can create benchmarks, standards, or acceptable outcomes that must be met.  

Achievable: The goal should be realistic, challenging, and attainable. It should not be such a daunting task that it will inevitably lead to failure, which erodes motivation.  

Results-oriented: Defining the end result of the goal provides purpose for it. Ask yourself what this goal will look like when completed. 

Time-bound: Goals must specify target dates for completion to plan around.

Similar to the SMART method, objectives and key results (OKR) is another goal-setting framework that can help you define goals or objectives and track the outcome. The structure is designed to be more user friendly and help organizations reach long-range goals in a shorter time period. The OKR method was created by Andy Grove, who incorporated the approach during his tenure with Intel, and was documented in his 1983 book High Output Management. This process was advocated by former Intel employee John Doerr to a relatively new Google company in the 1990s. OKR became an important success factor for Google and other companies such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Dropbox, AirBnB, and Uber, which all followed the same goal process.

The concept behind the CO using the OKR formula is to set an objective (what we want to accomplish) and define the key results (how we are going to get it done). This method may be simpler to state what we want to accomplish (goal/objective) and how we are going to get it done (key results). Completing the key results becomes your measurement of success, leading to goal achievement. OKRs usually contain three to five objectives, with another three to five key measurable results for each objective. It is not recommended to exceed five and should be kept to three when possible. 

Both goal setting structures can be effective, but COs should experiment with different methods to determine which would produce the best results for them and their personnel.

Setting the Goal

The19th century Scottish philosopher and essayist Thomas Carlyle once said, “A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.” For those who are not familiar with boating, the rudder of a ship is the component that keeps the vessel traveling along the path you want it to. It’s the main steering mechanism. Without this essential piece, the boat is no longer manageable and will drift in many different directions.

This can be said for most people, especially those in the fire service, which is primarily performance based and is a common reason personnel need to have performance goals that they are expected to meet. And, COs are responsible for collaborating with the personnel to set goals, ensuring they relate to the department goals, and holding people accountable for achieving and not achieving the goals.

The following are suggestions to start the goal-setting process:

  • Start with a collaborative strategy when deciding which goals to pursue. Keep in mind that the role of the CO is to help drive short-term achievements (Process Goals) while ensuring long-term desired results (Outcome Goals). The goals that you and your personnel establish together should reflect this approach.  
  • Schedule a goal-setting meeting with each person individually. This is a great opportunity to discuss what types of performance goals are necessary to fulfill the outcome goals and determine the relationship to the person’s job requirements, as well as identify goals that personnel may have in mind for themselves. This may include coaching them through the goal-setting process through a self-evaluation process similar to a SWOT Analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
  • Ensure the goal content is specific and challenging. These types of goals lead to a greater level of performance than vague, unchallenging goals or not setting goals at all. Establish goals that are specific and challenging while remaining realistic and achievable. The research by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham (1990) found that setting specific and challenging goals led to higher performance 90 percent of the time.
  • Clearly define the expectations of the goals and process. This should not be done only by the COs, which is commonly the case, but include personnel input, which continues the ownership we are looking for.   
  • Create and monitor benchmarks that are reviewed frequently and create an environment to provide real-time feedback. A recent study revealed that more frequent progress monitoring can increase the likelihood that people will achieve their goal (e.g., Harkin et al., 2016).
  • Finally, personnel must be committed to the goal for it to be achieved. Commitment refers to the extent to which employees are dedicated to reaching the goal and is often the toughest component for the CO to attain. Personnel must be convinced that the goal is important, relevant to the department’s success, and holds some personal value.

Whether you are a CO in an operational role, an administrative capacity, or executive command, your mission is to unite your personnel’s aspirations and the strategic direction of your department. It cannot be stressed enough that organizations typically reach a high performing level only when these two elements are in alignment. Otherwise, your forces may not complement each other or, worse, will conflict.

It is clear that goal setting is beneficial for the department’s success and personnel engagement.   A CO who can communicate a clear focus in the form of a goal is a valuable asset to any department and is a quality that is much needed in the fire service. By creating a clear framework and providing personnel with the tools for effective goal setting, the CO can expect a more productive, motivated, and high-achieving team.

Takeaways

  • Start with you. Begin by setting your own goals using the ideas and suggestions here. Understanding the process intimately will help you relate and support your personnel during their process. 
  • Goal setting can be difficult and stressful but has proven to be incredibly successful when done correctly. Similar to any other skill, this must be practiced and exercised repeatedly to become effective at it. 
  • After setting outcome goals, stop focusing on them and concentrate more on the process and performance goals. For example, after you have decided that you want to lose 20 pounds this year, begin focusing on daily behaviors that will help you lose that amount of weight.
  • Write down your all goals. A study conducted at the Dominican University in California (2015) found that people who write down their goals are 42% more likely to achieve them than people who don’t write them down.
  • Make goal setting a collaborative effort between you and your team. Based on the needs of the individual and your team, goals should not be determined by the CO only. The more people participate in creating their goals, the more committed they are to accomplishing them.
  • Make the goals clear, specific, challenging, and measurable. You want your personnel to easily understand what is expected of them and create an atmosphere of success. 

References

  1. DOMINICAN UNIVERSITY. (2015) Goals Research Summary. [Online] Available from: http://www.dominican.edu/academics/ahss/undergraduate-programs/psych/faculty/assets-gail-matthews/researchsummary2.pdf [Accessed: 22nd June 2020].
  2. Harkin B., Webb T. L., Chang B. P. I., Sheeran P., Prestwich A., Conner M., et al. (2016). Does prompting self-monitoring of goal progress facilitate self-regulation? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychol. Bull. 142 198–229. 10.1037/bul0000025 [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar].
  3. Grove, A. S. High Output Management. Souvenir Press, 1983.
  4. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting & task performance. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.
  5. Peale, Norman Vincent. The Power of Positive Thinking.
  6. “Thomas Carlyle Quotes.” BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2020. 22 June 2020. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/thomas_carlyle_156155.

Gary L. Krichbaum is a 31-year veteran of the fire service and recently retired as an Assistant Fire Chief with the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department. He is a Nationally Registered Paramedic, designated as a Chief Fire Officer by the Center for Public Safety Excellence and has a Master of Arts degree in Emergency and Disaster Management. Krichbaum also serves as the deputy incident commander for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend held each year in Emmitsburg, MD.